Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson greets supporters after he announced his run for Mayor of Chicago at Seward Park on Oct. 27, 2022. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Brandon Johnson,  a son of the West Side, defeated incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot in advancing to the runoff election for mayor of the city of Chicago. Lightfoot is only the second incumbent mayor in the last 40 years that has been denied a second term; the city’s first female mayor Jane Byrne lost her primary race in 1983. 

Now, on April 4 Johnson will face Paul Vallas, the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Vallas led the nine-candidate field winning 33.73% of the vote according to the latest data from the Chicago Board of Elections. 

Johnson, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and current Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District, came out on top of longtime political figure Rep. Jesus Chuy Garcia in a contentious runoff. The night of the election, Johnson, who lives in Austin with his family, secured 20.27 percent of the vote, an advantage of 3.18 percentage points over Lightfoot’s 17.09 percent and 6.57 percentage points ahead of  Garcia. 

Speaking at a Feb. 4 mayoral candidates forum organized by West Side community groups, Johnson took pride in his West Side roots. Yet, the latest election results show West Side residents favored Lightfoot. In the 29th, 37th and 24th Wards which cover Austin and Garfield Park, Lightfoot obtained at least 30% of the vote while Johnson averaged 17% of the vote. 

Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago Johnson faces Vallas in the runoff election on April 4.

Runoff contender Vallas only obtained a slight advantage on Johnson in the 29th Ward with a difference of 191 votes in his favor accounting for 19.63 percent of the vote versus Johnson’s 17.64 percent. In the 24th and 37th wards, Vallas trailed behind Johnson obtaining only 5.71 and 7.63 percent respectively. 

As Johnson seeks to defeat Vallas, gaining the support of the majority-Black wards on the West and South sides of Chicago will be key as both candidates try to persuade voters who favored Lightfoot and businessman Willie Wilson who also ran in the Feb. 28 primary.

Richard Boykin knows Johnson well having been defeated by him in a race for Cook County Commissioner in the 1st District which includes the West Side and near west suburbs. Boykin believes the Black community will be pivotal in the run-off and that Black voters will have to decide between two different agendas.

While Johnson and Vallas are both Democrats, the two have decidedly different visions for the city on key issues including public safety, economic development and taxes. Vallas boasts the support of the Fraternal Order of Police and has vowed to return the Chicago Police Department to “its core mission to protect and serve the people of Chicago.” His proposals include increasing police presence in the city’s mass transit system, hiring more police officers and building a Forensic Crime Lab. He has expressed his disapproval of increasing taxes for businesses such as airlines and hotels, measures proposed by Johnson. 

Johnson has moved his progressive agenda forward by expressing his support for the Treatment not Trauma ordinance seeking to reopen mental health clinics and have health professionals respond to crisis calls rather than police officers. Johnson’s approach to public safety lays on support initiatives that invest in community development to increase public safety rather than investing in police. To fund these initiatives and the city’s budget, he has proposed a budget plan that includes reinstating a business head tax, a tax on airlines known as the Chicago Jet Fuel Tax and a tax ranging from $1 to $2 on securities trading contracts known as the Big Banks Securities and Speculation Tax. 

A moderate stance on policing and taxes could benefit one candidate over the other, as it is “more appealing to a broad base of people who live in the city,” Boykin said. “But I mean, there are 33 days to go before the election, so we’ll know soon.”